Tough economic times are translating into pressure on already hard-pressed consumers. Even the wealthy are losing the margin that accommodates bad spending and money-management habits. So where to start?

According to Natasja Hart, who is a wealth manager at GCI, it’s worth understanding one’s current spending patterns, which often fail to correlate with what one imagines.

These are the tips she shares in order for you to cope with the current financial pressures.

I think the first thing people need to do is to be honest with themselves and not follow the ostrich mentality of oh, if I don’t know what I’m spending then I don’t know how bad it is. And one of the easiest things that one can do is to set up a budget.

But one must be very careful when you say “a budget”, because a budget is not “Oh, I think I spend this”. A budget is something where you write down what you think your spending is, and then compare your actual spending to see where the differences lie and where you can make changes in your spending habits.

If you look at your overall spending and where you put your money monthly, you must look at some of your fixed costs and see if those things can change.

For example, costs that we sometimes don’t even take into consideration are bank charges. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your bank accounts, see if you need all the accounts you have, and then see what bank charges you pay and if you are on the right package. Maybe by changing your banking package you can save bank charges.

And what happens in terms of cellphone packages and any short-term credit that I may have?

Cellphone packages are very interesting, because they are very difficult to compare. But one things that one must be very careful about is the cost of data. So when you are on social media – and those things use data – you must make sure that you structure your package in such a way that you are not paying extra costs for using up your data halfway through the month and then having to buy it at a much higher premium. So that’s a nice way, when you understand how you spend your cellphone content, that you can save money.

And then when we look at short-term credit, your credit cards, short-term debt is very expensive. We find that people have more than one credit card. Understand why you have more than one credit card, and try to keep your credit as low as possible because the credit card charges and the credit charges can be very, very high, which influences the money you have available to spend on other things.

On the flip side of it, there is long-term debt, like a car that you are financing. Do you then follow a process where you pay it off and then not try and look for a new car on the market? How do you do that, especially say you are three years into your car payments?

That’s one of the interesting things about the South African consumer. There again, see what is affordable and understand what the cost is, because remember cars are depreciating assets. So the moment you drive a brand-new car out of the showroom, it has lost value. It’s personal. You can’t make a statement to say you don’t need to replace your car often, but these days you can drive a car for longer. But, more importantly, when you replace the vehicle, make sure that you buy a car that is affordable and with things like fuel efficiency, and a maintenance plan.

The other thing that people don’t always check is the cost of insurance. For some vehicles, because of hijacking risk and things, the insurance can be higher. So make sure you understand all those things before you select your next vehicle.

I’m sure all of us have seen promotions here and there where you click on it or someone calls you and offers you something, and you kind of get tempted to get in there. How do you avoid falling prey to promotions and things you don’t need?

I’m going to make a very bold statement here, and say I think we women are more susceptible to it than men, and that comes in with all the beauty promotions especially, where if you buy two bottles you get all this makeup for free. You have to be honest with yourself. Do you need it, would you have used it if you had to pay for it? And is it a product that you normally use, or is it just something you are buying with the perception you are getting it for free – because somewhere along the line you are paying for it. There you must also be honest with yourself and say, is this something that I would buy under normal circumstances, or am I being enticed by the bells and whistles, and is it something I really need?

So for someone who is hearing all of this and thinking I’ve got quite a lot of things that I’m spending on, and it may appear a bit too daunting to even know where to start cutting things down, what’s that one piece of advice you’d offer?

The first thing is you have to have a very honest conversation with yourself and say, do I know where I’m spending, am I willing to look at how I’m spending and where I am spending? And then write your spending down, because to think you know what you are spending by only keeping it in your head, you are never going to make changes other than by writing down what you’ve spent your money on.

And also checking whether you are better off spending with cash or on debit cards. For example, I don’t like having cash in my wallet because I spend it too quickly. So I only work on a debit card. But those small steps that you implement in your daily life can eventually lead to bigger changes.

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